Why is there a 零 in 三年零九个月?

……大王，您所期待的长恒纪元就到来了，这个恒纪元将持续三年零九个月，其间气候温暖，是一个黄金纪元。

This is from the novel The Three Body Problem. I'm a little bit puzzled as to why there is a 零 added in 三年零九个月 = "three years and nine months"; we usually we don't add 零 before numbers, and I would ordinarily expect 三年九个月 to be appropriate. Maybe I should just chalk this up to poetic license usage.

Question: Why is there a 零 in 三年零九个月?

Why is there a 零 in 三年零九个月?

Based on my comments, 零 is a stand-in for in-between units that are empty.

\$101.05 is "一百零一元零五分" ; \$111.15 is "一百一十一元一角五分" or "一百一十一元零十五分"

So strictly speaking, 零 in 三年零九个月 is not needed when describing a number (in this case, a time period). The reason we say 三年零九个月 is 零 is used interchangeably with 另 (plus/ and) here

• To me, 三年零九个月 sounds better than 三年九个月. 三年另九个月 is probably a regional use. It's first time I see it. It looks like a traditional way to me.
– dan
Apr 29 at 23:21
• And I guess most of people around would say 十年零一个月 rather than 十年一个月 because 一个月 is nothing compared with 十年.
– dan
Apr 29 at 23:33
• I can see 三年零九个月 sounds better than 三年九个月, but where do you place 零 in 三年九个月二十一天十八小時六分二十二秒?
– Tang Ho
Apr 30 at 4:04
• It would be 三年'零'九个月二十一天十八小時六分二十二秒. In this case, the unit is still 年 and the rest(whatever it is) is 零头.
– dan
Apr 30 at 6:01
• we can also say(though verbosely): 三年'零'九个月'零'二十一天'零'十八小時'零'六分'零'二十二秒. This way, the speaker tries to be more specific/accurate and probably a bit for emphasis. He might want to be formal too. The point is he wants to narraw down to 'trivial'.
– dan
Apr 30 at 6:06

For example, when it comes to ￥3.5, it's both proper to say 三元零五角 and 三元五角.

• 三元零五角 can be shortened to 三元五角 because there's no unit in-between 元 and 角, It is also true for 三元五角五分, but 零 in 三元零五分 cannot be omitted between the in-between unit 角 is empty. Another example: 一千零一夜 cannot be reduced to 一千一夜, and you don't need 零 in 一千一百一十一夜
– Tang Ho
Apr 29 at 15:02
• \$101.05 is "一百零一元零五分" ; \$111.15 is "一百一十一元一角五分" or "一百一十一元零十五分"
– Tang Ho
Apr 29 at 15:11
• "零 doesn't stand for "zero", it's just a connection between a whole part and some smaller parts....." Agree, it acts as "and" in the English numbering system - \$305 = three hundred and 5 dollars when speaking with clarity.
– r13
Apr 29 at 18:34

This dictionary definition addresses the use of 零:

E.g. 五斤零六两 / 三点零一刻 / 一岁零五个月 / 一丈零二尺 / 一年零十天。

This use is somehow relevant to the sense 零头(remnant). 年 is a unit and 月 is 零头.

1.零碎(fragmentary)；小数目的（跟“整”相对）：～用。～售。化整为～。

2.零头(remnant)；零数：挂～儿。年纪已经八十有～。

3.放在两个数量中间，表示单位较高的量之下附有单位较低的量：一年～三天。八元～二分。

4.数的空位(empty)，在数码中多作“○”：三～一号。二～～～年。

5.表示没有数量(zero)：一减一等于～。这种药的效力等于～。

6.某些量度的计算起点(starting point of some measurement)：～点。～下十摄氏度。

7.姓。

8.（草木花叶）枯萎而落下(fallen)：～落。凋～。

9.（雨、泪等）落下：涕～。

I think meaning 3 fits your problem more, but understanding according to meaning 2 is also reasonable. btw，《三体》非常好看

It is basiclly work as "and" in english. Example: 303 3 hundred and 3, chinese: 三百零三 work the same as when you use something liek 'hmm', 'like', etc while your brain forget the word.

Becky

So why is there a 零 in 三年零九个月? Let's say zero in mobile like 0980-030-123, the 0 before numbers is pronounced as "o" instead of "zero".

In the context of Chinese, 三年九個月 a little bit refer to an actual age or period, instead of the tone that I think the story really meant : ...this era is about 3 years and 9 months..., it's a golden age.

Like "and" in English, it is just to connect numbers in different units. Adding or not are both correct actually.